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Read to Feed: Doing Good Globally in the Primary Grades

By Jen Girten
Read to Feed: Doing Good Globally in the Primary Grades

International schools provide a natural setting in which students can discover their connections to others. All they have to do is look around their classrooms, dining halls, or playgrounds to see a wide range of peers from various countries and ethnicities. While students navigate these daily intercultural experiences on campus, their teachers seek out ways to engage their students in doing good globally as well, even during the primary years. Carol Anklan, from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS), and Amy Husken, from the Atlanta International School (AIS), have found Heifer International’s school program, Read to Feed ®, a successful way to inspire their young students. Heifer International is a non-governmental organization that was founded in 1944. Its mission is to work with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Heifer International provides livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer’s Read to Feed program encourages reading while teaching students that their actions can make a difference. Students find sponsors to make donations for time that the participants spend reading. At the end of the program, students pool together the money they’ve collected to provide livestock to struggling families. The effect of the animal donation approach multiplies over time, as recipients give offspring of the donated livestock to another family in need. Heifer calls this Passing on the Gift™. Heifer offers free, downloadable materials to help teachers bring the issues of hunger and poverty into the classroom. AIS became involved with Read to Feed as Amy Husken prepared for a transdisciplinary unit, “Sharing the Planet,” about the lives of children around the world. While researching resources, Amy discovered Read to Feed. “My team was impressed with the books, lesson plans, and activities that Heifer has produced to support the Read to Feed program. We shared information with our administration, and it took off from there. The children were really inspired to read, and the parents were very supportive,” Ms. Husken shared. The Read to Feed program is flexible, allowing teachers to tailor the program to meet the needs of their school and students. At AIS, teachers discovered that students were motivated by the freedom to choose books about any topic—and written in any language—to count toward their reading goals. At TASIS, the teachers showed videos from Heifer in their classrooms, and students worked on projects with the art and music teachers to depict their learning, making posters and rewording songs to relate to Heifer. The teachers selected books that exposed the students to the realities of young people in poor regions of the world. Discovering the struggles faced by the children in the books was eye-opening for young students, whose life experiences were quite different. Students in both schools were inspired when they realized they could make a difference for struggling families, simply by reading as much as possible. The compassionate aspect of the program attracted the teachers at TASIS-Switzerland. It is important for schools to teach giving, said Carol Anklan, “to help children develop a sense of empathy for others who are less fortunate than they are, and to know that even as a young child, they can give of their time and skills (in this case, reading) to help others.” Within three years, the Read to Feed program at TASIS grew to include students through fifth grade, as the first-grade students challenged other classes to join their efforts. Carol is proud of the students’ continued fundraising success, but more importantly, she wants them to remember this deeper lesson, “Even as a young child, they have the power to help others. The gift of an animal is a gift that keeps on giving—from the animal [that gives products] to the family each day, to the family sharing their animal’s offspring to allow another family to prosper.” The teachers agreed on the importance of teaching skills involved in giving and serving. “If we want to our students to develop a caring attitude, a better understanding of the role they play in helping one another, and the knowledge that their efforts make a difference, then [they] need to have opportunities to have real impact on the world right now,” said Amy. When she heard from several parents that their children had requested donations to Heifer instead of birthday gifts, she knew the students had taken the message to heart.

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